Great science fiction can widen our horizons, and challenge our assumptions about space, time, and humanity. Movies in particular allow the wonder and imagination of sci-fi storytelling to take flight.
By combining dynamic, breathtaking visuals with imaginative storylines, science fiction films can be truly transportive—even if you're just streaming at home from the comfort of your couch.
Check out our recommendations below for 20 of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now. From the horrific to the heartwarming, these sci-fi flicks dare to reimagine life as we know it, and feature everything from old-school classics to recent blockbusters.
Grab some popcorn and get ready for adventure: These are the movies you need to stream this January.
This post will be updated monthly to reflect changes to streaming.
The first English-language film from The Host director Bong-Joon ho, Snowpiercer is a brilliant, thrilling vision of a steampunk apocalypse. The world has descended into a new Ice Age after human efforts to reverse climate change go awry.
The last survivors of the human species are passengers on Snowpiercer, a massive train with a perpetual motion machine engine. Snowpiercer passengers are divided into a strict class system, and the passengers in the train's tail are the lowest of the low and forced to subsist on food scraps. Curtis (Chris Evans) orchestrates a revolt among the tail to overthrow the decadent class in the engine.
But the inhumane Minister Mason (Tilda Swinton) is determined to keep the class system intact, no matter how much blood must be spilled to maintain the Snowpiercer status quo.
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This Academy Award-winning Spike Jonze film follows Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely writer in near-future Los Angeles. Theodore is in the midst of a complicated divorce.
Desperate to relieve his isolation, he upgrades his operating system so he can access a sophisticated virtual assistant.
Theodore names the AI Samantha (voice by Scarlett Johansson) and becomes fascinated by the way she learns from and builds on their previous conversations. Soon, Theodore and Samantha develop intense intimacy, and he feels himself falling for her even as his relationships with other humans grow more complicated.
This surprisingly thoughtful time travel romance stars Domhnall Gleeson as Tim Lake, a young man who learns on his 21st birthday that he has inherited the ability to travel through time at will.
After receiving this shocking news from his father, Tim resolves to use his skill for good, and to create a life he can be proud of. The remarkable talent also helps him meet the love of his life, Mary (Rachel McAdams).
But as Tim matures and has a family of his own, he realizes that his time traveling talents come with painful responsibilities and decisions.
The Matrix is over 20 years old, but this classic cyberpunk film from the Wachowskis is still compelling. Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), also known by his hacker alias Neo, has found repeated references online to something called 'the Matrix.'
When a woman named Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) contacts Neo and tells him someone called Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) has the answer he seeks, a chain of events is set in motion which forces Neo to choose between continuing the complacent life he has led thus far and a life of awareness about the truth of the Matrix. The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions are also available to stream on Netflix right now.
The Bad Batch
This divisive dystopian movie comes from Ana Lily Amirpour, director behind acclaimed Iranian vampire movie A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Like Amirpour's debut feature, The Bad Batch has an incredibly distinct aesthetic.
The story follows Arlen (Suki Waterhouse). Deemed an undesirable by the ruling dystopian government, Arlen is exiled to the desert and narrowly escapes cannibals with the help of a hermit (Jim Carrey).
Arlen finds a measure of safety in Comfort, a settlement of fellow undesirables who have managed to create a permanent rave in the desert. Comfort is led by a magnetic man who calls himself The Dream (Keanu Reeves). When Arlen believes she sees a child held prisoner by a cannibal in the wastelands of the desert, she rescues the girl and returns with her to Comfort.
But Miami Man (Jason Momoa) wants his daughter back, and heads to Comfort to find her.
The Bad Batch draws inevitable comparisons to Mad Max: Fury Road in that they're both desert-set dystopias populated by cannibals and exploitative men. Although The Bad Batch isn't quite as engaging as the latter movie, it's an undeniably fascinating portrait of dystopia.
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The debut film from Annihilation director Alex Garland, Ex Machina explores issues of autonomy and gender as they relate to AI. Accomplished programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) works for a Google-like search engine conglomerate where he wins a one-week visit to the home of reclusive tech genius Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac).
During the visit, Nathan introduces Caleb to Ava (Alicia Vikander), a female humanoid robot Nathan designed. Ava has already passed the Turing test, but Nathan wants Caleb's insight into whether his advanced AI is truly capable of emotion.
Although initially excited by the technological implications of Ava, as Caleb spends time with her and develops feelings he begins to question Nathan's ethics and his own role in Ava's treatment.
This 2009 alternate history alien invasion movie was written by Neill Blomkamp, who later went on to direct Chappie.
In 1982, a spaceship appears above Johannesburg, South Africa, carrying sick aliens. The extraterrestrials are quarantined in a camp that comes to be known as District 9. Over time, humans come to refer to the alien arrivals with the slur 'prawns.'
Decades later, the government makes the controversial decision to relocate the aliens. During the move, two aliens make a desperate attempt to return home, a decision which brings them into the path of Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), with disturbing results.
Ant-Man and the Wasp
A relatively lighthearted superhero movie — at least when compared to its MCU predecessor, Avengers: Infinity War — Ant-Man and the Wasp picks up with Paul Rudd as teeny-tiny criminal-turned-crime-fighter Scott Lang, and Evangeline Lilly as Hope Van Dyne.
Hope and her father, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) believes there's a chance Hope's mother Jane Van Dyne may still be alive in the liminal quantum realm, a realm Scott was briefly trapped in.
During his time imprisoned on the sub-atomic level, Scott became linked to Janet. Father, daughter, and ant attempt to make meaningful contact with Janet again — but their experiments are complicated by a space-jumping villain who moves through walls as easily as a ghost.
The Wandering Earth
This 2019 Chinese film is an adaptation of the novella of the same name by Cixin Liu, author of the acclaimed Remembrance of Earth's Past series. Netflix now has global streaming rights to The Wandering Earth, which broke major box office records when it premiered in China earlier this year.
The film follows a mission to move Earth out of our solar system and into the Alpha Centauri system, before the Sun completes its transformation into a Red Star and destroys the last remnants of human civilization. After 17 years, the operation is approaching successful completion when a disaster near Jupiter imperils the astronauts — and everyone left alive on Earth.
You can see a trailer for the celebrated sci-fi epic below.
Wakanda forever! Following the sudden death of his father, King T'Chaka, Prince T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home to lead the African country of Wakanda. But his ascent to the throne is threatened by a brutal usurper: soldier Erik Stevens, known by the sinister name of Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).
Killmonger wants to share Wakanda's secret technology with African people throughout the world. Although he makes compelling arguments against Wakanda's isolationism, Killmonger is indiscriminately violent in the name of his cause, and threatens to topple Wakanda in his quest to liberate.
This Marvel movie boasts an absolutely all-star cast, including Lupita Nyong'o, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, and Forest Whitaker. Stream it tonight and see why this tour-de-force was such a record-smashing success.
Men in Black
1997's Men in Black is a comedy classic. It stars Will Smith as Jay, a newbie member of the Men in Black (MiB), secret agents tasked with protecting Earth — and keeping the planet's resident aliens a secret from humans.
Jay is mentored by Kay (Tommy Lee Jones), an officer who sensed potential in the recruit back when he was just policing humans. But both the rookie and the veteran are in danger when they discover a body-snatching alien is running amok in New York city.
Although there have been three Men in Black films overall, the original is by far the best: funny, inventive, and gross.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Disney's second Star Wars anthology film, Solo: A Star Wars Story, had a famously troubled production, and ultimately became the first Star Wars Disney movie to lose money.
Regardless, Solo is still worth streaming if only for Donald Glover's ridiculously charming personification of young Lando Calrissian. The story follows young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) as he escapes his miserable life on Corellia, flunks out of Imperial Flight Academy, and ultimately talks his way into a gang of thieves intent on stealing a shipment from brutal crime boss Dryden Vos.
Along the way, Han meets Lando, reunites with his long-lost lover Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke), and plays a historic game of sabacc.
Based on Josh Malerman's book of the same name, this tense post-apocalyptic movie stars Sandra Bullock as Marjorie, a woman leading two children—referred to as 'boy' and 'girl'—on a harrowing journey to safety.
Five years prior, Marjorie was pregnant with her first child when the world around her descended into total chaos. Mass suicides caused by mysterious creatures that are deadly to look at led to the collapse of society.
During the initial chaos, Marjorie found refuge in a house with covered windows. But her temporary home can't shelter her forever.
Spurred on by rumors of a safe community further along the river, Marjorie and the two children begin a dangerous journey in which they must travel blind through an unfamiliar world.
Moon was the debut feature of Duncan Jones, who went on to direct Source Code, Warcraft, and Mute (also on this list).
This 2009 sci-fi thriller stars Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell, a mining overseer nearing the end of his isolating three-year placement on the far side of the Moon. Technical communications prevent Sam from communicating directly with his family back on earth, but he has videos of them to keep him company.
Otherwise, Sam's only source of distraction is GERTY, an AI who helps Sam run the mining operation and attends to his needs.
When a hallucination causes Sam to get into an accident while mining, he wakes to discover that GERTY may be keeping something from him — and that his life on the dark side of the Moon is not what it seemed.
A thriller that will grip hard sci-fi fans, Moon was a low-budget sleeper hit when it was in theaters, and its themes are perhaps even more relevant today.
Avengers: Infinity War
The most epic and emotionally compromising movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date, 2018's Avengers: Infinity War was the culmination of 10 years of MCU movies.
The massive-in-scope film sees the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and other heroes facing off against Thanos (Josh Brolin). Thanos is determined to wield the complete Infinity Gauntlet, which will give him unfathomable power over life throughout the universe.
A Netflix original, this Australian zombie movie is a smart addition to the genre that will thrill fans of The Girl With All the Gifts or Train to Busan. Andy (Martin Freeman) and his wife are attempting to outrun a zombie pandemic via boat.
When Andy's worst nightmare comes to pass, he must make a grueling, days-long trek across the outback in order to bring his infant daughter to safety. Andy's odyssey coincides with the journey of Thoomi (Simond Landers), an aboriginal tribe member whose father has recently been infected.
To say much more about the plot risks spoiling some of Cargo's appeal. Suffice to say, if you're a fan of zombie movies that delve into the emotional weight of an outbreak, you'll love this tense, unique addition to the genre.
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Americans Jenai (Maika Monroe) and Riley (Matt O'Leary) are excited for their first-ever visit to Iceland, but neither could have anticipated the trip's outcome.
After days of touring the picturesque landscape, Jenai is woken up in the middle of the night by strange lights outside their hotel room.
When the couple hit the streets in the morning prepared for another day of sightseeing, they find they're the only people left in town.
Fighting to remain calm, the pair assume they missed an emergency evacuation — but that doesn't explain why communication on the internet has stopped, or why they can't make contact with loved ones back home.
Jenai and Riley recognize that no matter what has happened they are stranded for the time being, and they need to build some sort of isolated existence in this unfamiliar and abandoned place.
Although eerie, Bokeh isn't as satisfying as many other similar apocalyptic movies. However, what it lacks in plot it makes up for in atmosphere, and in the awe-inspiring natural beauty of its setting.
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Heralded by critics as Netflix’s first great film and from the mind of Snowpiercer’s Joon-ho Bong, this emotionally wrenching drama doubles as an environmental morality tale. Okja is a thoughtful, visually awing, and perpetually relevant criticism of our food systems that’s delivered through a relationship between genetically modified pig Okja and her young owner.
Forewarning: watching will probably make you experience every emotion ever.
A Netflix original from Moon director Duncan Jones, Mute is a cyberpunk mystery set in future Berlin. Alexander Skarsgard stars as Leo, a bartender whose throat was damaged in a childhood accident. Leo is intent on finding Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh), his missing partner, and he'll comb through as much of the seedy underbelly of the high-tech city as he needs to do so.
Jones has described Mute as a "spiritual successor" to Moon, but unfortunately the new film isn't as smart or emotionally affecting as its predecessor. Still, it's worth a watch if only for the undeniably impressive, Blade Runner-reminiscent visuals.
It's difficult to believe it's been nearly ten years since Christopher Nolan's star-studded Inception hit theaters.
This intricate sci-fi film follows a gang of thieves led by Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), an intelligence professional involved with the shadowy world of 'extraction,' in which thieves enter dreams and steal valuable information therein.
Cobb, a widower, takes one last job with the hopes of restoring some of his happiness from the time his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) was still alive. Cobbs and co. are tasked with entering the dreams of a powerful billionaire. But this time, instead of taking something from the dreams, the extractors are tasked with leaving something behind.
A twist-filled and visually dazzling ride, Inception is just as fun today as it was in 2010.
Promotional poster from "Sony Pictures Classic" via A24